For Tomorrow’s Diabetics: Can Human Skin Cells Make Insulin?

There has been a major breakthrough for those suffering from diabetes 2. Scientists and researchers from the University of California (UCSF) and the Gladstone Institutes have successfully converted human skin cells into pancreatic cells, which are capable of producing insulin. This important hormone is produced by the pancreas and allows the body to utilize sugar from carbohydrates. This major accomplishment may well help diabetics to better manage their illness.




Diabetes I and Diabetes II

Unfortunately, for those with type 1 diabetes, this new development will be of no benefit because unlike its counterpart, it is considered an auto-immune disorder. Pancreatic beta cells produce insulin by stimulating cells throughout the body to absorb glucose from the blood. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys these beta cells, which leaves the body with almost no ability to produce insulin.


Type 1 Diabetes ChartType 1 Diabetes Chart


In the case of type 2 diabetes, the body produces some insulin, but the pancreatic cells malfunction and can't produce as much as needed. At the same time, other body cells develop insulin-resistance, meaning that they require higher and higher levels of insulin to absorb the sugar in the  blood. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body produces no insulin and needs to replace it in order to keep blood levels on target.


Type 2 Diabetes DiagramType 2 Diabetes Diagram


Described January 6th in the journal, Nature Communication, researchers are still in the early phases of development in terms of these new cells, which have been tested in laboratory settings but not on the human body. In addition, these new cells are not completely identical to the human pancreatic cells that normally produce insulin. The study has indicated significant breakthroughs in cellular programming technology, which is the process behind increased pancreatic cell production and the ability to create new cells in a systematic manner.

How does this cell reprogramming work?

Mathias Hebrok, co-senior author of the study and director of the University of California, San Francisco Diabetes Center and his colleagues utilized skin cells from male babies' foreskins that were removed and discarded after circumcision and reprogrammed them to become pancreatic cells by blending them with molecules that force a reversion to an earlier stage of cell development in the endoderm at which point they differentiate and multiply. tests on mice revealed that the new cells protected them from developing diabetes.

The future of this new treatment

The results of this new study raise many hopes for diabetic sufferers but  flollow up is still necessary that will require focus on making the reprogrammed cells more efficient and more similar to those found within the human body as well as new ways to shield these cells from the immune system. The research team must place the reprogrammed cells into humans rather than mice to see if in that situation they can produce insulin.

All in all, this new treatment offers much hope where once there was none .

Do you think the day will come when diabetes will be a disease of the past? Explain

Closing thoughts on diabetes:

I have diabetes, but diabetes doesn't have me. ~ Patti LaBelle